The National Democratic Alliance's (NDA) candidate Vijay Kumar Sinha beat his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) rival Awadh Bihari Choudhary by 12 votes to become the Speaker of the 17th state assembly of Bihar in a rare voting session marked by ruckus over an alleged 'poaching' audio clip of Lalu Prasad Yadav.
While Sinha's bid was supported by the lone LJP MLA, the Mahagathbandhan's (MGB) bid was pillared by the MLAs of Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM. Three MLAs - Jitan Manjhi (who did not vote as he was presiding over the house as the pro-tem speaker), one MLA of AIMIM and the lone BSP MLA did not vote.
Amid criticism by the opposition, which had objected to the presence of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the house and demanded a secret ballot, the BJP MLA from Lakhisarai was elected the Speaker in the first such election that the state assembly saw in over 50 years. Generally, the speaker is chosen by consensus of the house. The last time an election was held for Bihar's assembly speaker was back in March 1969.
The MGB's candidate, five-time MLA of the RJD, Awadh Bihari Choudhary secured 114 votes. Vijay Kumar Sinha of the BJP secured 126 votes.
Ruckus ensued in the house as soon as Mukesh Sahani, founder of VIP which is part of the ruling alliance, in his congratulatory message to the speaker said that those who sang virtues about democracy "should not make calls from jail". He was voicing his objection to the unverified audio clip of Yadav, without taking the RJD patriarch's name.
In the audio clip, Yadav is allegedly heard talking to an NDA MLA asking him to remain absent on voting day on pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic. "Once the speaker goes then we will see (about toppling the existing government)," he allegedly says.
लालू यादव ने दिखाई अपनी असलियत लालू प्रसाद यादव द्वारा NDA के विधायक को बिहार विधान सभा अध्यक्ष के लिए होने वाले चुनाव में महागठबंधन के पक्ष में मतदान करने हेतु प्रलोभन देते हुए। pic.twitter.com/LS9968q7pl — Sushil Kumar Modi (@SushilModi) November 25, 2020
The MGB had reportedly not considered pitting its own candidate with NDA considering the appointment of Nand Kishore Yadav as Speaker. However, as soon as the BJP came up with the name of so-called upper caste candidate Lakhisarai MLA Vijay Kumar Sinha, the RJD decided to field Awadh Bihari Choudhary, an MLA from Siwan, and a Yadav, for the post.
While Sinha is a senior leader of his party and was a minister in the previous Nitish Kumar government, Choudhary is a fifth term MLA and member of the assembly since the 1980s.
The numbers were unlikely to favour the MGB from the start, as the NDA has 126 MLAs against MGB's 110 and there are eight others, including AIMIM's five MLAs. But the opposition tried to achieve many other objectives by contesting this election, which included sending a message to its Yadav voters, who stood solidly behind the RJD in the recent Bihar assembly polls. Another objective was to ensure that Congress MLAs, about whom rumours of switching sides to the NDA were doing rounds, stayed within the fold of the MGB.
According to norm, the Speaker is generally chosen by consensus of all the parties. In the history of the Bihar assembly, voting for the chair of the Speaker has happened only twice - once in March 1967 and the other time in March 1969. Another thing to note about this election is that parties do not usually issue a whip for such polls because they require MLAs to stand up and announce their yes or no against the name of the candidates.